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Teaching Nutrition: Background information about nutrition, the nutrients, and healthy eating habits

Vegetables, mushrooms and Mortar and Pestle.

Vitamins are organic compounds necessary for normal growth, maintenance of health, and reproduction. There are 13 vitamins currently identified as essential for maintaining good health; the body cannot survive without them.

Vitamins help the body convert carbohydrates and fat into energy and assist in the formation of bones and tissues. Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins cannot be dissolved in water, so they are stored in the body fat until they are transported to the cells by the blood. Because these vitamins can accumulate in the body, it is especially important for a person’s regular daily nutrient intake of fat soluble vitamins not to exceed the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL). Water-soluble vitamins are easily dissolved by water and therefore are not significantly stored by the body. Water-soluble vitamins must be replenished frequently.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are the fat-soluble vitamins.

Fat-Soluble Vitamin
Alternative Names
Vitamin A
Beta-carotene (a precursor)
  Responsible for night and color vision, growth of bones and teeth, immune function, maintenance of epithelial tissues, and embryonic development. Excessive amounts of certain forms of Vitamin A (found in some skin medications) can cause fetal abnormalities.   Dark green and dark yellow vegetables, yellow fruits, egg yolks, whole milk, liver, and fish oils.
Vitamin D
  Important for the normal growth and development of bones and teeth. Aids in the absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus. With exposure to the sun, the body is able to make its own Vitamin D.   Egg yolks, liver, fish liver oils, fortified cereals, and fortified milk.
Vitamin E
  Protects cells from oxidation and is important in cell membranes. Oxidation is a chemical change that occurs as a result of exposure to oxygen. When blood cells or tissue cells are exposed to oxygen, the resulting chemical change causes a weakening of the cell walls and thus damages the tissues. Vitamin E is most effective in protecting the red blood cells in the lungs and the cells of the lung tissue because of their continuous exposure to oxygen.   Vegetable oils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, liver, fish oils, and green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, etc.).
Vitamin K   Necessary for protein synthesis involved in blood clotting and other body processes.   Green vegetables (leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), cabbage, plant oils, margarine. Can be produced by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
  Helps the body breakdown carbohydrates and release energy from food. It is necessary for cell respiration, promotion of normal appetite and digestion, and maintenance of a healthy nervous system. Thiamin is heat sensitive and is easily leached into the cooking liquid.   Enriched or fortified whole grain products, green leafy vegetables, legumes, and pork.

  Important for the breakdown of foods and the release of energy (oxidation-reduction reactions). Riboflavin is easily destroyed by exposure to light, especially sunlight.   Fortified cereals and bread products, eggs, fish, organ meats, and milk.
Nicotinic acid
  Helps cells convert food into energy, and is important in the nervous and digestive systems.   Lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts, enriched or fortified bread products and cereals, eggs, and dairy products.
Folic acid
  Necessary for the body to produce normal red blood cells and for amino acids and nucleic acid metabolism. Key in preventing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, during pregnancy.   Dark leafy green vegetables, enriched grain and cereal products, yeast.

Biotin   Essential in the metabolism of fats and amino acids.   Liver and eggs are important sources of biotin; it is also found in baker’s yeast, and legumes.
Pantothenic acid
  Aids in the metabolism of fats and the formation of cholesterol and hormones.   Eggs, milk, whole-grain products, sweet potatoes, and lean beef.
  Important in maintaining nervous tissue function and muscle cells, DNA and RNA production, and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.   Sources include poultry, fish, fortified whole grain cereals, and lentils.
  Important in red blood cell formation, nucleic acid metabolism and the prevention of pernicious anemia.   Animal products (meat, fish, poultry, milk), fortified cereals.
Vitamin C
Ascorbic acid
  Aids in the formation of collagen, the healing of wounds, and the absorption of iron and calcium. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant.   Sources include citrus fruits, parsley, broccoli, green and red peppers, and tomatoes.

Research continues into the role vitamins and minerals play in preventing chronic disease and in maintaining health and wellness. The Dietary Reference Intakes serve as guidelines for determining the amounts of nutrients that a person needs each day.


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